Klay Thompson, in a tailored suit instead of a uniform because of a knee injury, addressed the crowd before the first real basketball game at Chase Center, reminding the people that they didn’t leave the most important things — their three most recent NBA championship banners — at their old house on the other side of the Bay.
The Warriors’ fans were glad to see Thompson. He’ll be out for most of the season because of a knee injury he suffered last year in the Finals, and his absence would be felt all night.
You’d feel it when the Clippers would load up on Stephen Curry and Thompson wouldn’t be there to relieve the pressure with one of the sweetest shooting strokes in league history.
But, that’s not where it mattered most. That was on the other side of the court.
What the Warriors once were are what the Clippers could be — a suffocating defense that could be one of the best in the league
“I think maybe people didn’t talk about our defense as often as they talked about our offense. It was certainly one of the keys to winning championships. We talk about two-way teams being the true contenders year in and year out and that’s the truth,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before Thursday’s game.
“The roster that [president of basketball operations] Bob Myers built over the last five years gave us that two-way capability every single night. That’s the challenge now to develop these young guys and try to get to the point where we can play at a high level defensively. We are nowhere close to that now.”
At their best, the Warriors swarmed with speed, length and versatility — Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala. The first three seasons of the Golden State dynasty, the team finished first, sixth and second in defensive efficiency, respectively and during the run, as a whole, the team never finished lower than 11th. And those numbers would’ve been better had the Warriors not viewed the 82-game regular season as merely a prologue to the playoffs.
“The thing that no one talked about, I think everyone is so fascinated with their scoring, their shooting, and no one locked in on their defense.... I think that’s what made them so tough,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “A team that could shoot the ball the way they shot it and then if you didn’t score you were going to lose. I mean, that pressure was a lot on you.”
Now, it’s the Clippers’ turn to put that pressure on everyone they play.
Through two games, the Clippers have shown people why so many experts have them tabbed as the best team in the Western Conference — a two-way juggernaut that can hurt teams with equal force on both ends of the court.
Against a Warriors defense that was weaker than a complimentary casino cocktail, the Clippers got uncontested layups and dunks with everyone from Kawhi Leonard to Lou Williams to Maurice Harkless able to get into the paint with no obstructions.
And on the other end, thanks to Patrick Beverley, the Clippers pestered the only offensive threat left from the Warriors’ good ol’ days, Curry, into eight turnovers — the most he’s had in game since Jan. 12, 2017.
With Paul George, a four-time all-defensive team player still not even on the court, the Clippers’ defensive highs haven’t been unearthed.
“The Clippers have built something. What I admire about them is that it’s not just that they had a good summer; it’s what they did before that. Last year, they really built a foundation where they defended with energy, they had some grit to them and they fought for everything,” Kerr said before his team got blown off the court.
“They’ve already put in the foundation and now they have added Kawhi and Paul, two of the best players in the league, so they have put together a formidable team that’s for sure.”
Can they be as good as the Warriors once were? Rivers doesn’t want to compare.
But two games in, the Clippers have shown they can dominate on offense. They’ve shown they can dominate on defense.
And doing that on both ends? Nothing is more Warriors than that.